Some insects are not immediately connected to fly fishing and are not as naturally models for our flies as are the Mayflies and Caddiflies, even though they at some time of the season are so plentiful at the surface that the fish will totally concentrate on them. In this category there are flying ants, stink bugs and wasps, which during short periods of time can make the fish totally selective. The summers plentiful hatching of daddy long legs may also in many waters make the fish interested in especially large insects that are good catches and also vulnerable and easy for the fish to catch when they struggle with their long legs to free themselves in the surface.
In both lakes and in slow streams, the fish may gather to a veritable vaking festivity - and this is reason enough to look for a suitable imitation in the fly box.
Daddy longlegs are not really the basic food for the fish but only interesting to the fish for a short time of the season. But its not correct to say - as Ive heard a fly-fisher say - that the fish doesnt eat them. Hear sayings like this one repeated enough times has become "the truth" about several insects. Examples of insects that are said to be discarded by the fish are Yellow Mayfly, (Heptagenia sulphurea) and pond skaters. At least the first one is readily taken by the brown trout in my home waters. Its also not very long ago that it was thought that the caddis had no impact on the fly-fishing - an idea we cant agree with today
In other words we revise our opinion of which insects may be models to our imitations, new fly patterns are created and fished every day. Maybe the daddy long legs will fit into this category. Despite the number of crane flies, they have never been taken seriously here and many fly anglers have never cared about bringing a crane fly imitation in the fly box.
The last summer has really showed how plentiful the daddy long legs hatching can be - and that the fly fishing can specialize in them. Experiences from other countries also speak for this fact.
The Irish lake fishing has a good old tradition in fishing with daddy long legs imitations. For example E J Malones book, "Irish Trout and Salmon Flies" has an entire color plate with daddy long legs - both tied, dry flies, wet flies as well as dappling flies.
According to Olle W. Nilssons article "Harren och den rätta flugan", 90 % of the digested food in the stomachs of examined Graylings from the river Kaitumälven, were Tipula gigantea. This find proves that a wider use of Daddy long leg imitations is justified. The fish is apparently specializing on daddy long legs also in Nordic waters.
Many daddy long legs species are hatched in small water collections and in puddles and should be considered terrestrials even though they may attract some attention when they are blown out over the water. Other species live in lakes and watercourses and are hatched in large quantities during the summer and may be seen in a mixed hatching with caddis. The large daddy long legs struggle with their long legs to break the surface tension and get up on top of the water. The insects then hold their wings pointed upwards and their front bodies are high above the surface while the rear body still remains in the water until it frees itself (see the picture). An imitation like this could be supported with a hackle that lifts the fly allowing the front body to float high up in the water.
After the crane fly has dried it holds its wings tight and flies with the legs well extended. This characteristic look makes this insect easy to imitate. The problem is to find a tying method that allows for tying a large insect on a small and light hook that floats well. It really demands a long shafted streamer hook - but that would make it unnecessary heavy.
The solution is naturally to apply a so-called detached body to the crane fly imitation. The detached body is a separate body that can be tied on to a smaller and lighter hook, allowing it to stretch behind the bend of the hook. A body like this must be soft and non-resistant or it will be hard to hook the fish.
Apart from the size and the long rear body, its the wings and the extremely long legs that characterize the crane fly. The daddy longlegs have legs with weaker zones that allows the insect to pull one leg off if it get caught in a spider web or otherwise gets into danger - similar to the way that some species of lizards sacrifices their tail if they are attacked by a predator.
The crane flies belong to the Diptera family and carry only two wings. The rear wings are vestigial and only function as an aid to balance in flight. There are many species - and as mentioned before, some live in connection to lakes and watercourses - and the color on body and wings differ substantially. At a closer look some turn out to be colorful but most are non-descriptive in gray with beige or dirty brown hues. The wings are usually mottled with more or less pronounced patterns and are best imitated with hackle cape ends in the grizzle, cree or a dirty Dun color. The long legs are best imitated by fibers from a pheasant roosters middle tail feather with knots that imitates the knee joints.
The Tomas Olson method
The elongated rear body may of course be made of a reversed rooster hackle cape, but the best imitation is made by using the Tomas Olson method where you build a body by winding a thin mat of Fly-Rite around a not too thick darning needle. Then you add a "fixing cement" - for example Fastik, rubber glue made for paper and photocopies. The method is very interesting and also excellent for other flies with elongated bodies, among others imitations of our largest May flies, Ephemera danica and E. Vulgata. The method provides a soft and flexible body that also is hollow to ensure floating.
Start by making the body by tearing off a thin mat of Fly-Rite fibers and wind it around a darning needle. By wiring more fibers down the needle you can make the shape slightly tapered (a)
Then take some Fastik rubber glue on your thumb and index finger and roll the fiber-covered needle between them. Wipe your fingers off and remove the body from the needle with your thumb nail (b) and let it dry a few minutes at the end of the needle.
Trim the thicker part of the body and make a cut for the hook (c). This makes it easier to tie it into the hook shafts extension (d). Without the cut the body may bend upwards.
Select two hackle capes in a suitable color and prepare them for wings (e) by pulling off the bottom fibers like the figure indicates. Prepare the legs by tying knots on fibers from the pheasant roosters middle tail feather (f).
Then tie the wings in a straight angle over the hook (g) and make sure that there are a few millimeters left of the empty hackle stems. Otherwise the inner hackle fibers will be tied over when the thorax is formed. The dotted lines show the position of the wings. When throwing and fishing, they will be somewhat pressed backwards as the arrows indicates. Also attach the long legs.
Thereafter you dub the thread and form a marked thorax section. The dubbed thread helps supporting the wings and legs in their position (h).
Zigzag between the legs and the wings so that they are not moved from their correct positions. At the same time you may support and adjust them to their right position with help of the thread.
To increase the floating ability you can tie on a large hackle cape before you dub the thread (at the same time as you tie on the wings and legs) and then wind the hackle after the thorax section is finished (marked to the right in figure h). This way the daddy longlegs imitation will get an angle in the water similar to that of a hatching insect.
© Text, photo and drawings: Gunnar Johnson
Translated into english by Ulrika Lindfors Davis